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2011 MIT Simulation of Iranian BM Attack Against KSA Oil Facilities
Recently I read a 30-page article published in 2011 by two well-respected MIT PhD students in a high profile journal (Journal of International Security). The article is titled: "A Crude Threat: The Limits of an Iranian Missile Campaign against Saudi Arabian Oil" and can be found here:

This article analysed a potential Iranian ballistic missile against Saudi Arabia's oil facilities. I will quote the main parts and comment below.

Quote: Our analysis of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure and Iran’s missile capabilities ands that Iran could not significantly reduce Saudi exports using its existing missile stockpile. Further, redundancies in Saudi infrastructure and limits on Iranian capabilities make some Saudi exports virtually impossible to disrupt.

In a military sense, the Iranian missile threat to Saudi Arabian—and, by extension, Persian Gulf—oil is overstated.

This conclusion would change only if Iran begins to develop longer-range missiles that more effectively employed GPS guidance.

[Settings and assumptions]

... the aim of the missile campaign would be to prevent Saudi oil from reaching world markets. We therefore assume that the Iranian attack would employ all of Iran’s missile assets. Second, we consider the maximum damage Iran could cause given Saudi Arabia’s independent capability to defend its oil network. ... we assume that all of Iran’s missiles are and detonate as intended, without any “duds.” Although the fourth and fifth assumptions are unlikely in practice, they maximize Iran’s chance of success in accordance with the worst-case-scenario nature of this exercise. Finally, we consider only an Iranian ballistic missile attack.

[Saudi Arabia's Oil Infrastructure and Its Vulnerabilities]

Crude oil production averaged approx 9.2 mbd in 2008 out of a potential capacity of approx 11.8 mbd.

Once pumped from fields, oil travels to processing facilities throughout Saudi Arabia via 15,000 kilometers (km) of pipelines and more than thirty pumping stations. Freshly pumped oil consists of an unstable mixture of oil, water, gas, and sand that can damage industrial equipment; non-oil elements must be removed before the oil can be further processed. Oil is therefore pumped directly from the fields to one of sixty gas-oil separation plants (GOSPs) where the elements are separated and the oil prepared for further processing.

After leaving a GOSP, the majority of Saudi oil moves to stabilization plants for further treatment. Except for the approximately 2.6 mbd capacity found in the Central Arabian, Safaniya, Shaybah, and Zulu fields, all Saudi oil is considered “sour”: that is, it contains significant levels of hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide makes sour oil dangerous to transport via tanker because it is poisonous in its gaseous form and highly corrosive. The sour oil must therefore be “sweetened” by removing the hydrogen sulfide before it can be shipped to world markets. 

From a stabilization plant, crude oil is pumped either directly to a port for shipment abroad or to a refinery for processing into commercial products (e.g., gasoline). This process—referred to as “stabilization”— occurs at one of five facilities in Saudi Arabia. Abqaiq is by far the most important of these facilities, as it processes two-thirds of all Saudi oil (6.1 mbd) and has a potential capacity of 13 mbd. 

Saudi Arabia’s ports can export more than 15.5 mbd of combined crude and refined product. Its three major oil ports are located at Ras Tanura and Ras al-Juaymah on the Persian Gulf and Yanbu on the Red Sea. Ras Tanura and Juaymah handle approximately 75 percent (6.3 mbd) of all Saudi oil exports; most of the remaining 25 percent ships from Yanbu.

We conclude that Iran would target Saudi Arabian stabilization facilities. Five factors underlie this anding. First, destruction of the stabilization plants— with Abqaiq a particularly lucrative target—would prevent Saudi Arabia from transforming its sour crude into a product safe for export. ... each stabilization facility is within 300 km of Iran and thus within range of most Iranian missiles. Finally, some of the stabilization towers were specifically designed for Saudi facilities, meaning they would take a significant amount of time to replace.

[Iranian and Saudi Arabian Forces]

Iran’s most advanced SRBMs may be able to obtain a 100-meter circular error probable (CEP) with a system employing inertial guidance—possibly with GPS updates—and limited terminal maneuvering.

Whereas Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal has become more sophisticated over time, Saudi Arabian ballistic missile defenses remain relatively limited. Saudi Arabia relies on the Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) system with approximately 800 interceptors for ballistic missile defense. Standard operating procedure dictates firing two interceptors at each incoming missile, giving Saudi Arabia the ability to target the first 400 missiles before the stockpile is exhausted. Initial reports from the 1991 Gulf War suggested that PAC-2 achieved a 70 percent success rate against Iraqi missiles. Subsequent investigations, however, indicated that the rate was closer to 10 percent.

Overall, the weakness of Saudi missile defenses relative to Iranian missile assets suggests the potential attractiveness of a missile campaign to Iranian planners.

Shahab-1s and -2s, domestically produced versions of the Scud-B and Scud-C, are the most accurate missiles with sufficient range to reach Abqaiq and the Petroline pump stations. The analysis assumes that Iran would use the Shahab-1 against these facilities: although the Shahab-1 has a shorter range than the Shahab-2, its larger warhead and smaller CEP would maximize Iran’s chance of success. Estimates of the size of the Shahab-1 arsenal vary. Our analysis gives Iran the maximum 400 Shahab-1s.
[Image: m1.png]
[Describing the Attack - Attacking the Stabilisation Facilities]

Abqaiq is the most important stabilization facility in Saudi Arabia. The heart of the facility consists of eighteen stabilization towers... elimination of all the stabilization facilities would reduce Saudi exports to 2.6 mbd of naturally sweet oil.

We estimate that it would take 15 pounds per square inch (psi) of peak overpressure to rupture the stabilization towers. Using reference TNT blast curves and scaling to a 985-kilogram (kg) warhead, the Shahab-1 can produce 15 psi over- pressure out to a distance of 30 meters. Therefore, a missile falling within this lethal radius of a given tower would cause the tower’s destruction.

To determine the requirements to destroy Abqaiq’s northern towers, we treat each tower as an aimpoint and send the missiles in salvos of ten (one missile at each aimpoint).

In calculating missile requirements, we assume that Iran wants to be at least 75 percent confident that its attack would destroy any given aimpoint. The results of the simulation show that Iran would need to launch a minimum of 660 Shahab-1 missiles to target the ten northern towers even without Patriot attrition. Applied to the southern towers, the same approach shows that the remaining eight towers require at least 672 additional missiles. Iran would thus need more than 1,300 missiles to target Abqaiq’s towers with 75 percent confidence of destroying any one tower. Including 10 percent Patriot attrition against the first 400 missiles raises the total for Abqaiq to 1,376 Shahab-1s. 
[Image: m2.png]
This does not mean there is a 75 percent chance all Abqaiq towers will be destroyed by 1,376 missiles. Rather, given that the probability of destroying each aimpoint is 75 percent, the likelihood that an attack would destroy all eighteen towers equals... less than 1%. 

[Sensitivity analysis]

First, the calculations are sensitive to changes in Iranian missile accuracy (see figure 2). Improving Shahab-1 CEP by 25 percent, which might be achieved with integrated GPS-inertial guidance in a Scud-type system, results in a nearly 40 percent decrease in missile requirements. Along the same lines, a hypothetical Fateh with sufficient range to reach Abqaiq would reduce missile requirements for its destruction by 90 percent compared to the baseline Shahab-1 (figure 2). This holds despite the Fateh’s smaller warhead. Thus, the situation facing Saudi Arabia could change dramatically if Iran embarks on a missile accuracy improvement program. 
[Image: m3.png]
[Effects of an Iranian Attack]

With current assumptions, more than 1,300 Shahab-type missiles would be needed to target Abqaiq’s towers. With the 400 missiles on hand, Iran would be unlikely to do significant damage. Increasing the desired probability of success raises missile requirements: for example, a 50 percent overall probability of destroying Abqaiq’s towers would require more than 3,300 missiles. Moreover, even if Abqaiq was destroyed, Saudi Arabia would still be able to produce and stabilize 5.6 mbd of oil.

If a successful Iranian attack against Saudi oil facilities occurred, how long would supply disruptions last? Estimating the time to repair damaged Saudi facilities depends on the extent of the damage, the ability of manufacturers to deliver replacement parts, and military-political conditions (e.g., repairs are likely to take longer if a war is raging). A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from the 1970s estimated that significant damage to the Saudi oil network might take up to a year to repair, given the unique nature of the facilities. Repairs to Kuwaiti oil infrastructure after the 1990–91 Persian Gulf War required two years, with exports resuming within nine months and reaching 83 percent of prewar levels by 1992.

[Potential Responses to an Iranian Attack]

First, Saudi Arabia might consider procuring better missile defenses. Unfortunately, this is an expensive proposition. Even if Saudi Arabia procured the improved Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) system to replace the PAC-2, it is unclear whether the cost-benefit analysis would be in Saudi Arabia’s favor. Standard operating procedure for the Patriot system specifies firing two interceptors at each incoming missile. As a result, each increment of growth in the Iranian arsenal requires a disproportionately large Saudi investment.

Second, Saudi Arabia might attempt to attack Iranian missile launchers to limit missile strikes. Even an unsuccessful anti-launcher campaign could reduce attacks as launchers are moved to avoid detection... [However,] missile hunting has an inauspicious history: despite thousands of sorties, the U.S.-led coalition may not have destroyed a single Iraqi Scud launcher throughout Operation Desert Storm.


Overall, we judge the Saudi oil network to be secure against an Iranian missile attack given existing Iranian capabilities. Current Iranian missile holdings are insufficient in number and quality to destroy the stabilization facilities that would cause the greatest reduction in Saudi oil production.

Dispersion and redundancies in the Saudi oil network make the rest of Saudi production difficult to incapacitate. In short, this analysis shows that a missile campaign is not a proximate military threat.

Whereas analysts in the United States often highlight the increasing range of Iranian missiles, the more worrisome development from the standpoint of regional security would be Iran’s acquisition of increasingly accurate missiles. Even moderate gains in accuracy—for example, improving Shahab-1 CEP by 25 percent—result in sizable reductions in the number of missiles required to destroy a facility. Therefore, sustained improvements in the accuracy of Iranian ballistic missiles would enable Iran to do significantly greater damage with an arsenal of a given size. Evidence that Iran has made the technological leap to designing missiles fully able to exploit the gains in accuracy from GPS-based guidance would be the most worrisome: at that point, Iran would be able to disrupt oil production even with a small arsenal. 
[Apologies for any formatting issues or spelling mistakes - formatting was a nightmare.]

To me the most interesting factor is how only 8 years ago these highly educated "experts" at the MIT (the premier US educational institution) concluded that Iran would need 1300+ Shahab-1 ballistic missiles to successfully attack the Abqayq refineries. Yet today we see how Iran [allegedly] achieved this with only 20 small, cheap suicide drones! 

It's also interesting to me how just 8 years ago the best missiles that these experts assessed that Iran had for this job was 400 Shahab-1s and 200 early generation Fateh-110s... Now look at Iran's ballistic missile options alone (4 further generations of Fateh-110, Zolfaqar, Dezful, Qiam, etc ...). 

Another key takeaway was how important increased accuracy is to the success of such a hypothetical attack. Now the quest for precision-guided BMs of the last 5-8 years seems very fruitful (from the Fateh-110 new generations to the precision-guided Emad warhead that has been retrofitted to the Qiam, Qadr and Khorramshahr BMs). 
Great find...thank are right about how far away these MIT brains were from reality 8 years ago.. Imagine their astonishment at what happened..but most of all and an eye opener was the role of Missile CEP in the great respect goes to leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei for insisting the irgc to improve the accuracy of the is as if this man knew about this analysis....GOD BLESS HIM...
experience is like a comb that God gives to you after you lost your hair. Undecided
(09-27-2019, 12:58 AM)aryobarzan Wrote: Great find...thank are right about how far away these MIT brains were from reality 8 years ago.. Imagine their astonishment at what happened..but most of all and an eye opener was the role of Missile CEP in the great respect goes to leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei for insisting the irgc to improve the accuracy of the is as if this man knew about this analysis....GOD BLESS HIM...
Indeed, that's a hugely relevant factor. To need 10x fewer Fateh-110 missiles than Shahab-1, despite a smaller warhead, is quite significant. And that was assuming a 100m CEP, now we can say the CEP of Fateh-110 latest generations is for sure <50m and probably 10-30m. Also we should consider the increased explosive impact of the Dezful with new FAE warheads, and cluster munitions of the Shahab-3, boosting the blast radius.

The decision to invest in cruise missiles and invest so much time and resources in UAVs also now seems more than vindicated; gives Iran so much more room for superior options in terms of economics and precision. All this time the US/West has been focusing on Iran's BMs but virtually no mention or respect of/for Iran's cruise missiles... Smile
A great find of a great article. Would be interesting if they did the same analysis today...

Today Iran has a large number of Fatehs with greater range, and Zolfaqar has displayed 50 m or better accuracy in Syria. Even the Shahab-1/2s are getting warhead upgrades. Today we have the Mobin warhead upgrade that can be fitted to all Fateh types... The "precision project" has already succeeded to enhance Iran's strategic capabilities.
نه شرقی، نه غربی، جمهوری اسلامی
So going from 1300+ BM to 25 drones/CM is quite the achievement. It's like showing this paper that it's worth an F in academia Wink

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